ON Sunday the players of Tullow RFC and County Carlow FC will bridge a Leinster League Division 1B gap of almost a year stretching back to 4 October 2020 when they lined out against each other in Carlow. They only played one game in the competition before further Covid restrictions kicked in.
They will play against each other twice again this season. That will have to wait until the seventh game of the season on Sunday 28 November when the Slaneysiders will host their rivals in Blackgates. By then the two clubs will be well into the new league season but no matter how they are faring there will still be a flavour, like no other flavour, to this particular fixture
Yet, apart from the obvious health problems, the Covid pandemic has changed the way some fixtures have been drawn up in other sports. Because so many of their players are involved with GAA clubs, Tullow have had to play a balancing act in this regard. Now with the entire GAA club football competitions only starting at the end of September the rugby clubs are being squeezed more than they have been in the past.
Maurice Logue says it is now a major problem for him and the club.
“The only thing that is holding us back is football. Obviously with Covid coming in GAA was a great outlet and when the shutdown eased they got a chance to come back later. With the football going into November that is going to have a significant effect on our league campaign,” the Tullow manager predicted.
“Aaron Byrne, Tom Eustace and Jack McDonald are playing with the Cocks. Will Kelly is playing in Kildare. Shane Rohan is playing with Tullow. We have 5-6 guys in the first team tied up with football and it looks as if we may not have them,” he lamented.
“I don’t understand why (the football) championship in Carlow has to be played so late in the season. In other years they would be finished in October,” Logue pointed out.
“Don’t get me wrong. The GAA is a fantastic outlet for the community but I think they have to be careful as well. With this new development, championship is going later and later and it will have an impact on other sports. The GAA are going to create a situation where they are not community based and are going to become controllers.”
The Tullow manager stressed he is not anti-GAA.
“That is my only grievance. The GAA is a fantastic outlet for everybody. It is a great sport. I went to St Peters College so GAA would have been our number one sport. I think they have to be careful. There used to be a complaint the soccer season is getting longer and longer but now the GAA are doing it.”
Without having been told about Logue’s concerns, the Carlow manager, Corey Carty, also confirmed that he is worried about the GAA games running towards December.
“We are in a very positive frame of mind at the minute. Obviously we still have a good few lads committed to GAA,” Carty pointed out.
He says rugby players know, from a long way out, exactly when they are playing while he suggests that is not always the case in the GAA.
“It is frustrating because the beauty of our sport we set our stall out very early. On 19 September you are home to Cill Dara. Then, 26 September you are away. We have our fixtures set in stone. Lads know straightaway but the Championship in the county can chop and change. That is the frustrating thing for myself and Maurice. You genuinely don’t know whether a lad is going to land back into you next week or in two weeks’ time.
“I genuinely wonder how other sports can do it,” Carty mused.
In the meantime the coach as to get on with it. Covid rules meant the players, when they got back training, didn’t have full contact situations and instead practiced and trained within their own pods. That brought its own problems.
“It is a blessing and a curse. It definitely kept our management team on their toes. They had to be very creative,” agreed Carty.
Carlow will look to the likes of young players such as Alan Owens and Paddy Rogers to put it up to the more established players. Wes Shirley is back too and that will be a help.
“A few under 18s coming up. They will be looking for first team places. That is very important. The last thing you need is lads getting comfortable in those positions,” stressed Carty.
Over in Tullow Logue is also crunching the figures and player availability.
“Numbers in training are good. We have a lot of young lads coming back into the team. They are a rejuvenated squad. Gareth Fitzgerald is back from Lansdowne. Jay Leonard back from Terenure. Cian Leonard is back. Michael Jones is back from Lansdowne. Captain is Scott Caldbeck and James O’Brien is vice-captain. Fielding seconds is tight at the moment particularly with football,” he says.
**The Leinster League consists of eight teams where all eight play against each other twice in a round robin on a home and away basis. The top team is promoted to Division 1A with the second placed team playing against the second last team on a promotion-relegation play-off.
The bottom team after fourteen matches is relegated with the second last placed team playing a promotion-relegation match against the second placed team in Division 2A.
Sunday 19 September 3pm
Carlow v Cill Dara
Tullow v Mullingar
Sunday 26 September 3pm
Mullingar v Carlow
Wicklow v Tullow
Sunday 10 October 3pm
Clondalkin v Carlow
Tullow v Boyne
Sunday 17 October 3pm
Cill Dara v Tullow
Carlow v Wicklow
Sunday 31 October 3pm
Longford v Carlow
Tullow v Clondalkin
Sunday 7 November 2.30pm
Carlow v Boyne
Longford v Tullow
Sunday 28 November 2.30pm
Tullow v Carlow
By Kieran Murphy